'Billy Blythe' 

Nov. 19, Women's City Club

LOVE DUET: Montgomery and Jones at White Water.
  • LOVE DUET: Montgomery and Jones at White Water.

"Billy Blythe" represents an "opportunity to bring opera back to the people," director Jeremy Franklin told a near-capacity crowd at its premiere Friday night at the Women's City Club. The production, Franklin reminded the audience, is "by, for and about Arkansans" —  by natives Bonnie Montgomery and Brit Barber, composer and librettist, respectively; for Arkansans but also, implicitly, regular folks who don't know Verdi from verismo and about the man who, more than anyone else, has come to represent what Arkansas means to the world abroad, Bill Clinton.

Of course, as the title suggests, "Billy Blythe" is not a familiar Bill Clinton story. Rather, Montgomery and Barber look to Clinton's childhood, specifically to 1959, the last year kept his birth surname Blythe.

But those on Friday hoping for a story that captures that pivotal time in the future president's life only got a tease. Because that's all the performance was — not a true premiere, but rather a costumed workshop production of four scenes, only about half of the full opera.

Still, one got the gist. And it was promising. Montgomery successfully managed to weave ragtime and folk traditions into opera structure. Her rollicking opening instrumental theme, which she played on the keyboard herself (Giovanni Antipolo otherwise provided the accompaniment), especially evoked the era. And while the scenes staged Friday were sometimes hard to follow — they were mostly non-consecutive —  Barber's libretto teased drama out of a day in the life of the Blythe/Clinton household: In the opening scene, she finds passion amidst Virginia (Kelly Ponder) and Roger Clinton (Evan Jones) sleepily recalling their idyllic life in New Orleans. In the closing scene, the couple reunite rambunctiously, while young Billy (Christopher McKim) works up the courage to stand up to his drunken stepfather.

But the night's most resonant piece focused on the relationship of the opera's central characters, Billy and his mother. It begins a touch purple, with Virginia complimenting her son on the coffee he's made for her. "Thick and syrupy — oh, how this coffee oozes of your father's zest of life," Ponder sings, before she and McKim launch into a beautifully elegiac duet about William Jefferson Blythe, who died in a car crash before his son was born.

The cast for the workshop was roundly excellent. McKim managed a Bubba accent without laying it on too thick. Jones conveyed Roger Clinton Sr.'s combustible nature with gusto. And mezzo-soprano Ponder soared as Virginia Clinton; her second scene aria was a showstopper.

The crowd agreed, rewarding cast and crew with an enthusiastic standing ovation. Later, at the late night after party at White Water Tavern, another crowd with Montgomery, herself a mezzo-soprano, thrillingly taking on the Virginia Clinton role. Like at the earlier showing, the crowd stayed quiet during the performance. At midnight at White Water Tavern, that may've been a first.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Lindsey Millar

Readers also liked…

  • An uneven 'Macbeth'

    Michael Stewart Allen as Macbeth carries the play.
    • Sep 17, 2015

Most Shared

  • Issue 3: blank check

    Who could object to a constitutional amendment "concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development," which is the condensed title for Issue 3 for Arkansas voters on Nov. 8?
  • Little Rock police kill man downtown

    Little Rock police responding to a disturbance call near Eighth and Sherman Streets about 12:40 a.m. killed a man with a long gun, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said in an early morning meeting with reporters.
  • From the mind of Sol LeWitt: Crystal Bridges 'Loopy Doopy': A correction

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is installing Sol Lewitt's 70-foot eye-crosser "Wall Drawing 880: Loopy Doopy," waves of complementary orange and green, on the outside of the Twentieth Century Gallery bridge. You can glimpse painters working on it from Eleven, the museum's restaurant, museum spokeswoman Beth Bobbitt said
  • Ted Suhl loses another bid for new trial; faces stiff sentencing recommendation

    Ted Suhl, the former operator of residential and out-patient mental health services, has lost a second bid to get a new trial on his conviction for paying bribes to influence state Human Services Department policies. Set for sentencing Thursday, Suhl faces a government request for a sentence up to almost 20 years. He argues for no more than 33 months.
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.

Latest in Theater Reviews

  • Standout acting

    In romantic 'Bridges.'
    • Apr 21, 2016
  • Life during wartime

    The Rep updates Homer with 'An Iliad.'
    • Mar 3, 2016
  • A modern Pan

    "Peter and the Starcatcher" adds a modern flair to the Peter Pan story.
    • Jan 28, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • George Takei to UCA

    Also, 'The Halloween Tree' at Ron Robinson, Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival, Fourche Creek Discovery Day, Halloween on the River, Chanticleer at Christ Episcopal Church and Andrew W.K. at Revolution.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Good Weather

    • Congratulations Tara, beautifully written!

    • on October 27, 2016

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation